Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for February 18, 2023

Newsline: Netherlands limits number of diplomats at Russian embassy

The Dutch government on Saturday said it would close its consulate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and that it would limit the number of Russian diplomats allowed at the Russian embassy in The Hague. “Russia keeps trying to secretly get intelligence agents into the Netherlands under cover of diplomacy. We cannot and shall not allow that,” Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in a statement. “At the same time Russia refuses to give visas to Dutch diplomats who would work at the consulate in St Petersburg or the embassy in Moscow.” In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said it would respond to the move, RIA news agency reported. The Dutch government said it had decided to limit the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in The Hague to match the number of those at the Dutch embassy in Moscow. “A number of diplomats shall therefore have to leave the country within two weeks,” The Foreign Affairs ministry said in a statement, without giving a specific number. (https://neuters.de/world/europe/netherlands-orders-russian-embassy-downsize-closes-st-petersburg-consulate-2023-02-18/) The Dutch government also ordered the Russian trade office in Amsterdam to close by Tuesday.

Newsline: China’s top diplomat blasts US over ‘hysterical and absurd’ balloon claim

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday blasted the US reaction to what Washington has called a Chinese spy balloon as “hysterical and absurd”, in uncharacteristically strong remarks against the top Western power. Addressing a gathering of world leaders at the Munich Security Conference, Wang said President Joe Biden’s administration has a “misguided” perception of Beijing. And he accused the United States of trying to “smear” the Asian giant while it itself was implementing policies that ran counter to its paradigms such as free trade. “There are many balloons from many countries in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?” Wang asked. “We urge the United States not to do such preposterous things simply to divert attention from its own domestic problems.” (https://www.france24.com/en/americas/20230218-china-s-top-diplomat-blasts-us-over-hysterical-and-absurd-balloon-claim) Washington has been in a state of alarm since a huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of top secret nuclear weapons sites, before being shot down just off the east coast on February 4. Beijing denies it uses spy balloons and says the craft was for weather research. Subsequently it accused Washington of sending its own espionage balloons over its territory — which the US has denied. The spat had led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a rare visit to China. With Blinken also in Munich for the conference, all eyes are on whether both sides succeed in setting up a meeting. But asked if he was planning a huddle with the US delegation, Wang reacted combatively. Washington, he said, had the wrong view of China as a serious geopolitical challenge and a threat to the United States.

Newsline: Russia summons Italy’s ambassador to Moscow

The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that it had summoned the Italian Ambassador in Moscow Giorgio Starace. The ministry said it expressed its “astonishment” to the ambassador about the “recent cancellation of cultural events of Russian artists in Italy”. (https://www.ansa.it/english/news/world/2023/02/17/russia-summons-italys-ambassador-to-moscow_12f01386-eb99-4737-9b18-abbb1ae078e5.html) It also said that it had informed Starace of Moscow’s “assessments” of the Western line of provoking an escalation of the Ukrainian conflict.

Newsline: Senior Israeli diplomat removed from African Union’s summit

A senior Israeli diplomat was on Saturday ejected from the African Union’s annual summit in Ethiopia, as a dispute over Israel’s accreditation to the bloc escalated. Images posted online showed AU security personnel confronting the diplomat during the opening ceremony of the summit, before she left the auditorium. “Israel looks harshly upon the incident in which the deputy director for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union hall despite her status as an accredited observer with entrance badges,” the foreign ministry said. Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the African Union’s commission chairman, said the diplomat had been removed because she was not the duly accredited Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, the official who was expected. But Israel blamed the incident on South Africa and Algeria, two key nations in the 55-nation bloc, saying they were holding the AU hostage, and were driven by “hate”. “We call on the countries of Africa to stand up against these actions that harm the organization of the African Union itself and the entire continent,” the Israeli foreign ministry said. South Africa rejected the claim, saying Israel’s application for observer status at the AU has not been decided upon by the bloc. “Until the AU takes a decision on whether to grant Israel observer status, you cannot have the country sitting and observing,” Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy in South Africa’s department of international relations, told Reuters. (https://neuters.de/world/africa/top-israeli-diplomat-ejected-au-summit-row-escalates-2023-02-18/) South Africa’s ruling party has historically been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Newsline: U.S. and China diplomats keep communicating

U.S. diplomatic communications with China remain open after the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon this month, but contact between the countries’ militaries “unfortunately” remains shut down, the White House said on Friday. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also said it was not the “right time” for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to travel to China after he postponed a Feb. 5-6 trip over the balloon episode, but President Joe Biden wanted to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping when it was “appropriate.” Kirby told a White House news briefing that U.S. and Chinese diplomats can still communicate despite tensions over the balloon incident. “I recognize that there are tensions, but Secretary Blinken still has an open line of communication with the foreign minister. We still have an embassy in Beijing … and the State Department also can communicate directly with the PRC embassy personnel here,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “Unfortunately, the military lines aren’t open, and that’s really what we would like to see amended,” he said. (https://neuters.de/world/us/us-china-military-unfortunately-not-communicating-white-house-2023-02-17/) China cut several military-to-military communication channels and other areas of bilateral dialogue after an August visit to the Chinese-claimed island of Taiwan by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which took Washington-Beijing relations to a dangerous low.